Kirin J Callinan has been making some serious waves in the U.S. He has just returned to his Aussie homeland to tour his latest release and is carving himself a very particular niche in the AU music scene. It’s always interesting to see how artists fit themselves into creative cohorts and Mr Callinan is known to put on a bit of a performance. I was looking forward to seeing him live but still felt apprehensive over whether the gig could live up to the hype.
I scurried in from the freezing cold Melbourne winter just in time for the final throes of the first support act who had a mad beer gut, his shirt off, showing-no-self-consciousness and completely surrounded by other people’s equipment.
Originally signed to Nihilistic Orbs and now to Chapter Music, Johnny Telafone offered a lo-fi performance coupled with stripped back presentation. Echo and loop pedals were the theme de jour for the evening, enabling Telafone to pack a decent punch with his sound. He was possibly shitfaced. His final address was quite slurred but he seemed apologetic about it. The gist was, to put it somewhat more eloquently, you have got to celebrate and enjoy yourself on evenings such as these. At least, I think that is what he was saying. However, unlike his stage persona, the tunes were well executed and genuinely reflected the album.
Next up was Standish/Carlyon, who are also part of the Chapter Music family. I own their record ‘Deleted Scenes’ and although it is quite good I was not waiting for them with bated breath. They offered a more polished sound and performance than Telafone. Their take was much more funk and smooth, especially the opening track. They also stayed riveted to a singular spot on the stage throughout their entire performance. In fact, all that they had going for them visually was a smoke machine which enhanced the impact of the simple lighting rig. This also drew attention to the bass player, who I still can’t identify as either Standish or Carlyon, but looked straight out of the 70′s New York queer scene, complete with leather cap and pervert-moustache. The crowd moved up to the stage edge, possibly out of intrigue, or maybe because there was less flailing.
The music that they created live just washed over us, like sinking slowly into something; feeling it envelop the audience. I did not get this vibe from their recorded material and I think that’s because the live performance sounds less studio and more emotive. To describe their sound, think about HTRK and Sade having a twisted love child: on the threshold of minimal rock with a series of stripped back elements but slightly more funk and full.
Their set built over time, introducing a powerful bass. They also changed the sounds up occasionally, using sampled vocal grabs that were twisted up, looped, re-edited and then flipping all of this on its head and bringing in elements of 80′s power guitar.
Before Kirin J Callinan stepped onto the stage a curtain was drawn to obscure the proceedings. When we finally had the pleasure of seeing the stage again everything was dramatically backlit but revealed that Alex Akers from Forces was on stage to sing back up.
Both Aker and Callinan looked rather dapper in their suits, and Callinan had married his ensemble with a pair of T-bar sandals and sweet love heart socks. Contrastingly, the bass player dressed like Standish/Carlyon and the keyboardist and drummer could have been straight from a 90s group like Len. If you are wondering why I had so much time to ponder the appearance of the people onstage, it was because Callinan suffered from a lengthy period of ‘guitar indecision’.
“Patience is a virtue, especially if you’ve paid $20 for the privilege” was the first of many quips from Callinan during the course of the evening. He proved to be a compelling performer. I was unable to stop watching his constant movement; he seemed unable to remain still, constantly twitching, tuning, pacing, doing up his fly (the pants he had chosen seemed have a dodgy zipper. They also made me think of Michael Jackson. I am not sure whether this was deliberate on his part) and standing almost on tiptoe each time he strummed his guitar.
There has been a lot of press around his provocative performances and his first full-length solo release. I had almost forgotten he is, first and foremost, an excellent guitarist. I was surprised ‘Embracism’ was not the opener and instead was the second song he played given it’s the lead single for his release of the same name. I can’t fault the decision, it’s a strong and difficult track and was nice to have a bit of a warm up before launching into it.
He had three different microphones and the Northcote Social Club is so small, you can walk from one side to the other in approximately five steps. It just looked a little odd. Plus there were some entertaining moments when Callinan tried to figure out exactly which one of the three microphones the sound guy had active at any given time. When Callinan mumbled into the microphone about “the Stalin-like fascist-thing going on [that was] just not practical for a rock’n'roll show”, it was hard to tell whether he was referring to the microphones he was fiddling with or something else that had caught his eye.
I would argue his music is much more subversive than balls out rock’n’roll and contains an almost disjointed vibe. There are elements of dub with fast paced, spaced out synth that’s woven through a more standard song structure. One track could almost have been described as a surf rock ballad; slow and lazy, occasionally building up to pack a punch then slowing back to a waltz as he began to lean back while singing, shoulders and pelvis pushed forward. With his high-waisted pants and wife beater, it made him look somehow both fancy and like a 1950′s boxer.
At one point during the show he ditched his guitar, did his fly up in an obvious fashion and breathed deeply from a special, blue, bottle-like inhaler that covered his nose and mouth. As if dosing himself up onstage while a slow and eerie track started creeping through the speakers. This was about as close as we got to something that could be considered provocative that evening but I was not disappointed.
Throughout the show he was consistently heckled by the crowd, which was something he almost seems to invite as he gave each one a quick yet considered response. One punter commented that he looked like Bono, and he politely replied: ‘you must mean the Edge’, all the while being softly spoken. A request for him to speak up was bellowed from the back of the room and the answer was ‘no,’ he had to save his voice for the songs. He opened up more to the end of the show, entertaining us with tales about having taken the scenic route to Melbourne and he thanked everyone for their attendance.
With a charming twinkle in his eye he told the audience, “I want to have a good time tonight, now and after the show, so come introduce yourself” and this hinted that this politeness is transient. Alongside his showmanship and raucous sounds, I liked watching his quite, intimate, solo guitar moments the most. I appreciated that he became so lost in it all and how well he played.
Press Gang hosts a radio show on a community radio station in Melbourne, Australia.
Photography by Daniel O’Brien (apart from Johnny Telafone)